Since 2000, only four players (Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson) have been ranked inside the top 10 in the world when they won The Players Championship. In fact, during that span the average OWGR position of a Players winner has been 35.8.
So we ask: Which player outside the top 30 in the world has the best chance to win this week?
By RYAN LAVNER
The Junkman has only one top-10 in nine career starts at TPC Sawgrass, but he’s never been this consistent or sharp with his game. Since missing the cut in his first start of the season in Phoenix, he hasn’t finished worse than 25th, with three top-10s.
Jacobson never will overpower a course – at 284.4 yards per drive, he ranks 103rd in driving distance – and at TPC Sawgrass, he won’t have to. No, what will matter this week is that he’s fourth in putting, sixth in scoring average and 13th in scrambling. Indeed, Jacobson fits the A-to-B, plodder type that has excelled at The Players in the past few years.
By REX HOGGARD
It’s pronounced TOR-be-yorn OO-les-en. American golf fans should get used to saying Thorbjorn Olesen’s name because he has all the markings of a Players champion.
Although Olesen, who recently took up special temporary status on the PGA Tour, has gotten off to an eventful start this season – he injured himself riding a camel earlier this year and suffered a second injury when he was in a car crash during the Shell Houston Open – he already has two top-10 finishes (seventh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie for sixth in his first Masters).
He also has the type of complete game that plays well at demanding ballparks like TPC Sawgrass. He’s 24th on Tour in driving distance, 26th in putts inside 10 feet and 45th in eagles.
He also fits the mold of recent Players Championship winners. Think Tim Clark with more power or Henrik Stenson with a better driver. After a few years of seasoning on the European Tour he also enjoys a level of experience that most “rookies” don’t have.
For the injury-prone Dane, the only thing he has to improve on is his handling of courtesy cars and camel-riding skills. But at No. 33 in the Official World Golf Ranking, U.S. audiences should get used to saying his name – it’s OO-les-en.
By JASON SOBEL
Maybe I'm looking too much for The Matt Kuchar Story II, but I see this being a big week for another former phenom whose game fell on some hard times for a while, but has bounced back to become one of the PGA Tour's most consistent players.
My pick to win is Charles Howell III.
It's about time. Nobody in the world is more snake-bitten than Chucky Threesticks. He has only two career wins – the last one coming a half-dozen years ago. But he owns 14 runner-up finishes.
Now, sure, a few of those can be blamed on his own failures down the stretch. But there's a whole lot of bad luck in there, too. You have to be really good to consistently come so close.
So far this season, it's been more of the same. Howell has five top-10s in 13 starts, including one at Quail Hollow this past weekend. It's time for his luck to change. Yeah, I know he hasn't made a cut at The Players since 2007 and has never finished inside the top 30. I don't care. Maybe it takes a course where he's never succeeded for everything to finally go his way.
If it happens, of course, the Augusta native will clinch a return to the Masters next year. And the only thing better than that is not having to answer the incessant questions about trying to get back there again.
By RANDALL MELL
I’ll double down on Billy Horschel.
Yeah, he has never played The Players Championship before, but don’t tell him it's a liability. Actually, please do tell him, because it will only make him more determined, and his resolve seems to be his greatest asset.
Horschel, ranked No. 49 in the world, is on a roll with four consecutive top-10 finishes, including his maiden PGA Tour victory in his last start at the Zurich Classic. While Horschel hasn’t played The Players before, he’s hitting a lot of greens these days and that bodes well at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. In fact, Horschel is doing everything well of late. He’s eighth in ball striking, ninth in total driving, 14th in strokes gained-putting. He just might be No. 1 in confidence right now, if the Tour could measure that.